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On the Hippie Trail. Colonial Knowledge, Local Agency, and the Countercultural Imagination of Asia


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. Students from within the specialization the course belongs to have right of way. It is not accessible for BA students.


Course description

In this research seminar we will explore the politics and practices of knowledge production in the countercultural imagination of Asia, and seek to understand the colonial legacies therein, by focusing on the hippie-trail, and the long term academic and ‘alternative’ knowledge networks that helped shaping it.

The present, ongoing discussion on decolonizing structures of knowledge and knowledge transfer in museums and academic institutions, resonates with idealist, reformist and radical activism, and anti-imperialism, of – what is referred to in historiography as – the global countercultural movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Yet there are also cleare orientalist prejudices visible in the imaginations of Asia that served (spriritual, antiwar, environmentalist) activism of the 1970s, both in Asia and in the West. So how should we compare present and past countercultural idealism? What kind of continuities and discontinuities do we recognize? A specific question is the place of colonial and postcolonial Indonesia and India in the countercultural imagination, but students are welcome to start from case studies concerning other formerly colonized countries in todays South and Southeast Asia, that connected to the trail as well.

The hippietrail of the 1960s-1970s led a generation of youngsters – often to-be scholars of Asia– from the US, Europe and Australia, to a greater, spiritual Asia. An Asia they deemed better than the material and warmongering West – and an Asia that reached from Afghanistan and India, to Nepal, and downwards to Southeast Asia, and also Indonesia. This is the somewhat cliché picture of ‘one critical counter-cultural generation’ following that path to a spiritual Greater India, which dominates the general literature and memoires of the trail. It needs further scrutiny, from a more local, and interactive perspective of longer durée. The hippietrail is part of long term inter-Asian and global knowledge networks of scholars, pilgrims, Hindu-Buddhist revivalists, and spiritual seekers, that go back to at least the late nineteenth century. It has moreover legacies in academia today, as the trail has led quite a number of these youngsters of the 1970s into academic positions in study of Asian languages, culture or politics. Local actors in engaging in Asia helped shaping the trail to their own advantage, while the trail helped popularizing Asia in the imagination as the spiritual, good alternative of the materialist warmongering West. Individuals in these networks responded to quite different currents of cultural inter-change that did not dominate the struggle for national progress or independence and subsequent historiography. They engaged, however, with forms of orientalism, of India-centred cultural imperialism, and of Greater India-thinking, which had their own discrete notions of belonging, and mechanisms of in- and exclusion.

In the first weeks we will read and discuss relevant literature and approaches in the field of postcolonial theory, the hippietrail, third worldism, and countercultural activism in the 1960s-70s, and on the politics of heritage and knowledge production, orientalism and religion in Asia more broadly. Together we will inventorize and discuss the nature of the kind of sources the hippie trail has generated. In week 4-5, students will select topics for further research, for their final paper, starting for example, from individual biographies, or associational activities, sites of knowledge encounters in Asia, or journeys ‘far out’ and back, to explore, from various local Asian and travellers perspectives, the forms, politics and/or legacies of knowledge production generated on and by the trail: what was Asia in the countercultural imagination about?; when, why and how academic and countercultural knowledge networks intersected? The aim is to gauge the colonial dimensions of the hippietrail and its legacies in academia

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;

  2. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;

  3. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  4. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  5. The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;

  6. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;

  7. The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;

  8. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  9. The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;

  10. (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

The student has acquired:

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subtracks as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;

-in the specialisation Colonial and Global History: how global (political, socio-economic, and cultural) connections interact with regional processes of identity and state formation; hence insight in cross-cultural processes (including the infrastructure of shipping and other modes of communication) that affect regions across the world such as imperialism, colonisation, islamisation, modernisation and globalisation (in particular during the period 1200-1940);

-in the subtrack Postcolonial and Heritage Studies also: the history and politics of cultural knowledge production and heritage formation (including archives) in colonial and postcolonial situations, at local, transnational and global levels; insight into processes of cultural decolonization, questioning the nature, legacies and (dis-)connections of colonial power structures in present-day societies, regarding culture, heritage politics, Orientalism, museums, collecting etcetera. Understanding heritage in the broadest sense – including archives, museums, historical sites, objects, sites of memory, rituals – as the prism to study these problems.

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation or subtrack in question, with a particular focus on the following:

-in the specialisation Colonial and Global History: empirical research from a comparative and connective perspective;

-in the subtrack Postcolonial and Heritage Studies also: on postcolonial theory, critical heritage studies, and history of science approaches.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student has acquired:

  1. knowledge and understanding of this particular field of colonial and postcolonial history, including processes of cultural decolonization.

  2. insight into the value and limits of comparative, transnational and interdisciplinary approaches for historical research

  3. the ability to work with a broad and mobile notion of knowledge, archives and heritage; to analyse, compare and relate forms of knowledge, and processes of heritage formation including archives at multiple locations; and to recognize, question, understand the role of multiple power relations and changing hierarchies, in knowledge production, and in the makings and uses of sites of heritage including archives.

  4. to acquire new critical insight into alternative archival formations, heritage practices, and forms of knowledge, and knowledge exchange, developing in colonial and postcolonial situations, and into their uses for historical research.

  5. to develop critical awareness of the problems and multi-sitedness of colonial and postcolonial history, and, thus, of the legacies of colonial histories in present-day societies – worldwide.

  6. (ResMA only): The ability to set up and carry out original research that raises new questions, pioneers new approaches and/or points to new directions for future research.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)

This means that students must attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the lecturer beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the lecturer will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, the student will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Written paper (5500-6000 words, based on research in primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)

measured learning objectives: 1-9, 11-16 (ResMA also: 10, 17, 18)

  • Archival assignment, resulting in short report (1200 words)

measured learning objectives: 2, 3, 7, 11, 15-17

  • Short, topic-oriented, historiographic paper (1500-2000 words)
    measured learning objectives: 1, 4-9, 11-12; 13-17

  • Group presentation: to present and prepare discussions on the weekly literature

measured learning objectives: 4,5, 8,9, 16-17 (Res MA 3-10)

  • Individual presentation: presentation of First draft of final paper.
    measured learning objectives: 3-5, 7-9, 16-17 (Res MA 3-5; 7-10)


  • Written final paper : 60%

  • Short historiographical paper: 20 %

  • Archival assignment 10 %

  • Individual presentation 10 %

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Brightspace.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.

Inspection and feedback

How and when a review of the written paper will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the results, a review of the written paper will have to be organised. 

Reading list

Prequisite reading = ca. 480 pages of literature, available at Leiden University Library, enlisted below (organized over the first 8 ‘thematic’ weeks). The list will be made available 2 weeks in advance of the course.

Most of the prescribed texts are available online (via Leiden University Library Catalogue) unless mentioned otherwise. Texts that are not accessible online (marked with *) will be made available in time, either on the Course Reserve Shelve in the Asian Library, in Leiden University Library (from week 2 onwards), or by other means.

NB1. Students are also asked to watch (at least) the first 3 episodes of the 2018 Netflix Series, Wild, Wild Country directed by Maclain Way and Chapman Way, to be discussed in class (with related literature) in week 4.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.

General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website.


  • For course related questions, contact the lecturer:; by appointment, on Mondays or Tuesdays afternoon. E-mails will normally be answered on Tuesdays.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga.